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Elements Of Autobiography In Martin Eden By Jack London

In London’s literary ingenuity, Mark Eden is staged in such a way that it is widely considered a living autobiography for Jack London himself from the resemblance of the various themes and postulates in the book with the author’s own perspectives during his life; in fact, so close to London’s perspectives in life are the issues discussed in the book that even the tragic end of Mark Eden taking his own life has been justifiably been surmised to be a foreshadow Jack London’s own death.

The Elements of autobiography in ‘Martin Eden’ by Jack London

Martin Eden is a 1909 novel by a once renowned American author who was called Jack London that details a story of a young man that struggles for recognition among the literary elite of his time. In his life and times, social stereotypes and cultural biases abhor interactions between the poor and the bourgeoning rich class which forms one of the struggles that young Martin fights especially considering that he is in love with Roth Morse; a young bourgeois woman from a well off family. This work is a novel creation of superb work of a real literary craftsman which addresses the normal issues of young struggling writers explaining the challenges that they face daily with the publishing of their work. In London’s literary ingenuity, Mark Eden is staged in such a way that it is widely considered a living autobiography for Jack London himself from the resemblance of the various themes and postulates in the book with the author’s own perspectives during his life; in fact, so close to London’s perspectives in life are the issues discussed in the book that even the tragic end of Mark Eden taking his own life has been justifiably been surmised to be a foreshadow Jack London’s own death.

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This essay looks at the book, Mark Eden, with the view of explaining the plot of the book in an attempt of determining how the author’s life is reflected in the book. The essay also looks at the various themes discussed in the book and compares them with the ideological views that the author held in his lifetime. In addition to this, the essay also sets out to determine whether there is anything autobiographical about the book in reference to its author’s life. These aims will be attained by drawing quotes and inferences from the book to justify postulates and authenticate presuppositions made in this regard. Further corroborative remarks will also be used from different authorities and literature about the same topic to reinforce the credibility of the findings and conclusions herein.

This book is a pet favourite among upcoming writers who have faced the reality of the hardship that surrounds publishing their literary works of art. It is a story of a young and courageous Martin Eden who through his determination struggles through self-education in the early 20th century to edge a living for himself and subsequently achieve a footing at the helm of the literary elite of the time. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear thatEden’s impetus towards hard work and desire of edging a name for himself among the societal elite is Ruth Morse’s love. Social stereotypes and societal norms fragrantly denyEden any chance of enjoying a union with Ruth since they are from two different social classes:Eden is from the lower working class of sailors while Ruth is from the higher bourgeois class. For Eden to move himself slightly towards attainment of any of his dreams of happily living with Ruth and earning an honourable living therefore, he must establish himself as a writer which is his life-long dream hence the passionate attempts at having his work published.

This is the first place that Martin Eden closely reflects the life of Jack London. The skepticism with which Martin Eden views the publishing houses and publishers is the same cynicism thatLondon viewed publishers with during his formative years as a struggling writer. In effect, there is probably no better way of fully capturing the defiant cynicism thatLondon had in this regard than usingEden’s own words:

“…he [Eden] speculated that there was no human being in form of an editor to receive his manuscripts when he sent them but rather there was a an smart arrangement of cogs which automatically changed any manuscripts they received from this envelope to another attaching stamps to them then returning them to the sender(s) with a kindly written rejection slip” (Berman 67).

Eden’s wars continue but as is the case with all non-quitters, his day of laughter dawns but unfortunately it comes too late soon after his life-long love, Ruth Morse has given up on waiting for him to hit the right button of prosperity. In her impatience, she retorts in frustration to Edenthat “…had you only settled down in life and attempted to make something for yourself in life… I would have had reason to hope for the maturity of my love for you” (Berman 38). There are authorities who have surmised quite justifiably that the character of Ruth Morse is modeled on Jack London’s first love, Mabel Applegarth who continually rejected Londonfor his apparent ‘failure’ in life as a young writer (Campbell 145). In this regard also therefore, there is a direct inference from London’s life that is closely associated with Martin Eden making the argument that the book has autobiographical inclinations as plausible as it is justifiable.

This notwithstanding, there are substantial differences in the story that do not rhyme at all withLondon’s convictions during his time. Such an example is the issue of socialism versus individualism as portrayed in the book. From the book,Edenrejects socialism repugnantly considering it ‘slavery’ and instead hails individualism based on Nietzschean ideology. On the other hand, London is on record to have written to Upton Sinclair discrediting individualism and in his correspondence is quoted to have said that “…one of my greatest motifs in the book was to ingeniously attack individualism which I reckon I miserably bungled since not even one single reviewer of this book has ever discovered that” (London 23).

The book ends tragically inEdentaking his own life by drowning himself in water. This came at his best moments when he had attained recognition and his writing had been widely acclaimed which would have implied that he should have gotten the highest satisfaction given that such success is what he craved for in life. As it downed on him, societal gears just swung the other way when he had reached what he had all along considered the zenith of his literary acumen since it downed on him that not even his immense success as a writer would earn him the societal acceptance among the nobility and upper social class. There was always an aurora of discontent and despise from his contemporary artists from the higher social class, something that madly piquedEdenoff. It is this continued disrespect that eventually lured him into taking his own life (London58).

In a word, events surrounding Jack London’s death have been closely associated with suicide after Eden’s manner thereby making the book obnoxiously futuristic pointing to the author’s own death (London69). At the age of 33 when London had already attained fame and international acclaim with his previous work of literature (such as White Fang and The Call of the Wild), he quickly got bored with the bourgeoning fame and set out to sail throughout the entire of the Southern Pacific. It was on this voyage that London wrote the book, Martin Eden when he was struggling with life’s frustrations and some bowel illness to which he is thought to have succumbed. In the book,London reiterated his adolescent gangfights, artistic recognition, frustrations and romantic struggles that characterized his humble life.

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In summary, Martin Eden is a book that is widely considered an autobiography forLondongiven the many futuristic antidotes that it hints which are directly linkable to Jack London’s life. The many struggles in the book inEden’s youth hood have direct resemblance with the many struggles thatLondonfought against in his own youth hood further making the book widely autobiographical. Inasmuch as there are some minor differences in the ideological statements made in the book and London’s own perceptions (such as individualism and socialism), it is commonplace for literary forms and therefore does not overtly cloud the pontification of the book as a being autobiographical in nature. It is in this view that Martin Eden is favoured herein as being autobiographical in its entirety.



Berman, P. Introduction to Martin Eden: xv.New York: Random House, 2002.

London, Joan. Jack London and His times: An Unconventional Biography.New York: Doubleday. Doran, 1939 p.23

Campbell, Reesman. Prospects for the Study of Jack London Resources for American Literary Study. @Sunsite.Berkeley. Edu, 2001, 145.

London, Jack. Martin Eden [M].Beijing Foreign Language Teaching &Research Press, 1992.


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